Is this the golden era of UNH women’s cross country? After capturing a fourth consecutive America East championship, one might certainly think so.
The women’s team captured the title again this Saturday in one of the closest races of the year, edging out Stony Brook University by a narrow margin of two points, 45 to 47. Junior Elinor Purrier captured her second American East title in the process of setting a new meet record, while her teammates placed not too far behind in their efforts.
Purrier’s time of 16-minutes, 27.1-seconds allowed her to win the race by a respectable 34 seconds and put her team in a position to get the win. Next for the ‘Cats was standout freshman Meg Champagne finishing sixth in 17:32.3. Senior Hannah Kimball was ninth at 17:43.1, freshman Melissa Menghini 13th at 17:54.5. Senior Sarah Keiran paired up with Riley Gilmore to take 16th and 17th respectively. Packing six runners into the top 17 was crucial, especially with large contributions from two young freshmen.
“Being able to step in your freshman year, you’re going against people who have been training at the college level for three to four years and you’re basically a high school level kid and to be able to take that step up that first semester is really difficult and it usually takes a couple of seasons to get where you need to,” said coach Robert Hoppler of his freshmen. “Having two all-conference runners as freshman is really exciting and is just a testament to the toughness of these kids.”
There was not a moment that wasn’t close about this race. When scoring as a team two points is just about as close as it gets. “It was a really tight meet, it was a nail biter and it came down to the very end. The way the course was set up we felt we could run the last half mile well. Because of that we ended up winning the meet” Hoppler said.
What remains to be most impressive about this team is the fact that their top five runners, who are usually the only ones who score for the team, are completely different from last year. “Our top five this year is totally different than the top five last year. To turn the top five scorers over completely is a remarkable achievement for the program and I’m really proud of the young women,” Hoppler said on his team’s success.
Hoppler and his staff were also awarded the America East Coaching Staff of the Year award.
The women weren’t the only one to obtain their goals. The men’s team has had clear goals all season long and was able to achieve most of them this past weekend at the conference meet.
Aiming for top five after a seventh place finish last year, the ‘Cats came through with a fourth place finish with 100 points, three points behind Albany’s 97.
Leading the charge was junior Timothy Kenefick finishing 13th with a time of 25:14.5 for the 8-kilometer course, earning him second team all-conference honors. Next there was Brett Hoerner in 13th, Ryan Chisea in 22nd, Mitchell Dutton in 23rd and Nicolas Ochoa-Sevilla in 26th in a time of 25:44. This group of men were all within thirty second of each other.
“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to have five guys averaging 25:30,” coach Jim Boulanger said. “It was a good day.”
With a relatively young team, it’s important to make sure they are well acquainted with high-pressure races. “Last year we were seventh and I felt that we should have been in the top five…this group set their mind to it and got it done,” Boulanger said. “I think they responded very well [to the pressure].”
Both teams will be represented in the NCAA regionals meet on Friday, Nov. 11 at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City.